Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Book Review - The Outcast by Sadie Jones

Synopsis - One day in the summer of 1957, 19 year old Lewis Aldridge stands alone at Waterford railway station.  The only person awaiting his return is a 15 year old girl, Kit Carmichael.  Like him, she endured a childhood spent in a stifling English village recovering from the Second World War.  A decade earlier Lewis waited for his father's homecoming from the war.  His mother, a free-spirited and glamorous woman, holds her husband and son in her thrall.  When tragedy strikes, Lewis and his father, unable to console one another, are torn apart by their grief.

Review - This is a book which will test all your emotions.  From sadness to anger to sorrow, you follow the seven stages of grief with Lewis and his father.  Here is a young boy who watches his mother drown and cannot do anything to save her.  This is where the author leaves it up to the reader to decide if Lewis deliberately lets his mother drown or if he  really cannot save her.  His father so locked up in his own grief that he cannot find room to let his son into his heart.  Is he blaming his son?  I return to the relationship between the family.  The father is away at war and the mother forms a very strong bond with her son, they are company for each other.  The father, Gilbert returns from war to his devoted wife and they are in love and besotted with each other but Elizabeth has room for Lewis in her heart too.  Gilbert is jealous of the relationship between his wife and his son.  Is Gilbert so consumed by his jealousy and grief that he blames Lewis for his loss and cannot find room in his heart to love  his own flesh and blood?  This is one of the questions the author asks of the reader.  Gilbert is lonely and remarries a younger, ineffectual woman, Alice, quite soon afterwards.  Lewis is devastated as he sees this replacement for his mother come to live in his home and also see his father behaving in the same way towards his new wife.  Lewis cannot cope and becomes introverted.  His friends don't bother with him anymore and when he does attempt to play with them they shut him out.  He is the outcast.
Every village has it's top dog and Dickie Carmichael is that.  The wealthy landowner who runs his own business, wife beater and child abuser.  Everyone is in his pocket including Gilbert who works for him.  Dickie is a troublemaker and uses his influence to disgrace and provoke Lewis, and also to embarass Gilbert.  Lewis cannot take anymore and during his teeneage years becomes extremely troubled, drinking and indulging in delinquent behaviour in a way to explore and find himself.  He is only calm when he self harms.  Eventually after much provocation by Dickie and constantly being shut out by his father he commits arson and is imprisoned for two years.  Returning home all seems well at the beginning.  Gilbert asks Dickie to give Lewis a job and surprisingly Dickie offers him a  place as a filing clerk at the quarry. This goes well but Tamsin, Dickie's eldest daughter suddenly appears, treating Lewis as a charity case but knowingly leading him on and provoking him.  Tamsin is in cohorts with her father and you know that it won't be long before Lewis is provoked into acting irresponsibly.  Of course he is framed by Dickie and his family.  His ally the younger daughter Kit is not heard by her family and when she tries to defend Lewis she is punished severely by her father.  I will not spoil the story but I highly recommend this book.  If you want to experience an emotional roller coaster then this is for you.  I felt real empathy for Lewis and Kit.  It brought out feelings of anger against the schemers and perpetrators of violence in this novel and against those who weakly stood by and let things happen.  This author is one to watch and I cannot wait to read more. 4*

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